The dishes are piling up all around the counter. I’ve done two days of garage sale with a friend who needed company at hers. I’ve also been out buying 50 mile diet stuff from the local farmers and have had to prepare it for the freezer. It all takes time. The kitchen is a mess. It’s after midnight and I may be a night owl but there are limits. With about half an hour before me before tuck in time, I weigh in the balance: Clean up the kitchen? Write another anecdote of my fascinating life? Clean up the kitchen? Write another anecdote?
Aimée strode down the length of the house, bouncing with all the energy of a twenty year old full of vitamins.
“You were right, you know!” she calls (I love it when I’m right) as she comes to greet me. No hello, no hug, no nothing, just. . . “He is a hunk!”
“What?” says Mrs. Stepford, as if she were deaf, but she isn’t. “What?! Fill me in.”
“So you went down to see him?” I ask.
“Yeah! We talked about strawberries in porridge and other recipes.” She was beaming.
Aimée looks thirty, a born again cancer survivor, ready to make every minute of her life count now; but she’s fifty – just had her birthday a few months ago. She goes out running every day along the dikes; she attends workshops; she brings up two teenage sons. She’s volatile and sexy, and she has an amazing mind – a leading edge published poet, a philospher, a former English teacher with moxy.
And Mrs. Stepford was clamoring to find out who, what and where.
I was in Vancouver on Friday, trying to get a few pieces into the company that scans artwork for reproductions. I’ve been accepted into an international competition for painters and my work needs to be framed within the next week or so. I won’t have the opportunity to do it afterward if, miracle of miracle, I actually sell it from the show.
I left the house at ten in the morning for an eleven o’clock appointment to scan three watercolours. I figured I’d be finished by about two and I could carry on to get the matting done. But Karma said otherwise.
Once I had filled in the order form, the receptionist sent me away. The image would not be fully scanned before an hour and a half. I knew about this and had come prepared. I wanted to see the David Milne print show at the gallery just down the road. I spent about a half hour there and then walked the perimeter of the park grounds up to the little cafe thinking that if I didn’t eat a precautionary something now, it might be a long time before I got lunch.
Before leaving the park, I did one more round of the David Milne show. I find that if I look intensively at things, my eyes get tired and my brain shuts down so that after about half an hour, I’m not really looking anymore. On the other hand, I’m getting old. I forget things easily. If I take a second turn around the pictures, I retain what I’ve seen much better.
Back at the reproduction centre, I waited twenty minutes before Henry brought me out a sample of what it would look like for my approval. He had lofty hopes of me accepting it first time, but the poor lad was out of luck.
The company prides itself on reproductions that are almost impossible to identify when sitting beside the original. I tend to work in subtle colours and that makes it quite difficult to make the adjustments. For each of the three images, I must have sent them back for tweaking about three times each.
Between each proofing, I read a book or fell asleep, nodding off in boredom as I waited for the next layer to improve the matching quality of the repro. I left the place at five, annoyed and tired from so much sitting around.
On my mind as it got later and later was the little bug the green grocer put in my ear the other day – local strawberry season would be over in two or three days. I was astonished at this. I hadn’t yet bought any and I had wanted to put a lot of them down in my freezer for the winter.I wanted to stop by a farm on the way back home and get some, fresh picked during the day.
The Fraser Valley produces the best strawberries ever. They are small, dark ruby red and sweet. They melt in your mouth, and unlike ones that are picked green, full of water, frozen en route – in short, imported – they may get soft, but they don’t disintegrate or go brown easily.
So at five, I swung onto Canada Way and drove down to the Kensington exit to join the highway going east. It was the height of rush hour and the cars were crawling along like ants marching back to the anthill.
I cranked up the CD player to listen to Glen Gould playing Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. It was soothing after an afternoon of sluggish irritation, and as it finished and went onto the Schumann’s piano pieces, I had finally come to the Brunette interchange and merged into the United Boulevard lane, fretting all the while that the farm fruit stand would be closed before I got there.
The cars edged along the Mary Hill Bypass up to the Pitt River Bridge and then flowed easily over it. Unlike most evenings, the press of cars was lighter, moving like it would mid-afternoon. The new Golden Ears Bridge was open and apparently diverting much of the rush hour traffic from the Pitt interchange.
With minutes to spare, I swung into the farm called the Red Barn by locals. Curiously enough, it’s the only red one for miles around. Don’t they paint barns in red anymore?
As I parked up close to the fruit stand, a young man in his thirties who had been reading his book behind a table in the main yard leapt to attention.
We exchanged a few niceties about the weather which had been magnificent from eleven in the morning onwards. All the while, I had been appreciating the good looks of this thirty-something man of recent immigrant stock who was tending the flats of freshly picked strawberries. He was most likely an athlete, his body build tall and lean somewhat like Mark Spitz, the Olympic swimmer. His hair was shaven completely, he had a broad smile and intelligent eyes. Here, indeed, was a looker.
“I blend a handful in the morning and toss them in my porridge,” he proclaimed.
“Me too, and if not strawberries, then blue berries. I’ll have enough for all winter,” I replied.
“We’ll have strawberries until the end of the week and then the blueberries will be coming,” he said. ” We are trying to get out of the fresh produce business and establish the secondary products – wine, juices and cordials, health products, dried fruits like the cranberries, gift packages and the like. The fresh berry products are a risky business. If it rains when they are ripe, the berries take on a lot of water and then when the sun comes out…”
“They split!” says I, showing by my finishing of his sentences that I’m raptly listening. ( Isn’t that what they teach in communication courses?)
“They explode!” he said, hardly perturbed by my incorrect ending to his sentence. ” I’ve seen them burst wide open and splatter all over right in front of my eyes! Of course, they are useless then and we’ve lost our crop. Fancy by-products will allow us to make a better profit.”
I eyed the book he placed down on the counter when he had lept to attention upon my arrival. It was some kind of text book on managerial skills. I mentally figured that he was probably at university getting his MBA in Blueberry Farm management.
“Wasn’t this the farm called The Red Barn a few years ago? Didn’t they have hens and ducks running around; and free range eggs for sale?”
“This is the one!’
“It sure looks a way better cared for,” I offered.
“The people who owned it got into trouble. They had a grow op in that building over there and got caught at it. They had to sell and we bought the property. Now we have this one, the next one which was our first and the one on the far side of it.”
I nodded my head and smiled broadly in admiration. Farm barons, I was thinking. These folks had worked hard to get what they had, and their thrift and labour had produced great results for them.
I bargained for a few baskets of soft berries. “I’m only using them for jam, ” I explained, and he obliged with two baskets of soft ones and the rest, really good ones of today’s picking.
When I got home half an hour later, I was on the phone lickety split to Mrs. Stepford but she wasn’t answering, so I left a cryptic message asking her if she wanted some of this season’s strawberries from the farm before they were gone.
Aimée phoned at eleven at night to fill me in on her up-coming travels and to recount her day. I returned the favour by telling her about the strawberry man. “He’s just delicious to look at! It’s worth going down to get your berries there, if you want to put some in your freezer. They’re not going to be available much longer.”
And that’s how Aimée came to greet me at the door with her bouncy agreement on my choice of good looking men.
But that’s not all.
I picked the top off my strawberries, sugared and froze the good ones, stewed the soft ones in the microwave (three to five minutes in a covered big bowl depending on the strength of your microwave) and sweeten them afterwards; and drain off the liquid for a superb syrop for ice-cream or for just cake.
It took two hours to do up the case of strawberries. It’s a lot of time, but it’s worth it because these berries, well, they are just the best! When I saw how little it made in my freezer, though, I thought, what’s another two hours now for much foodie pleasure later.
An esoteric fact: They only pick berries every second day. It was Sunday just after the garage sale that I went down to see about another flat of berries that I could share with Mrs. Stepford.
The strawberry man was still there, tall, tanned and smiling. A feast for the eyes.
“There are only these three flats until Tuesday,” he said, fingering them, I wasn’t sure what for – whether he was trying to hold onto a few so he could sell them the next day or letting me know that if I wanted some, I’d better hurry up and get them today. His face let on no particular message; it was his more nervous hands shifting boxes and straightening them that was different from the first time I came.
Feeling a bit sassy, I said to him, “Have a lot of young women been coming down to buy berries in the last two days?”
He shrugged his shoulders and said there had been a few, but why did I ask?
With a wide grin, I said, “When I got back home, I called all my women friends. I told them it was worth coming to get their berries at the Red Barn; the berries were great; and that you were a feast for the eyes! I know at least one of them came and bought a flat, because she phoned to let me know that my taste in good looking men was just perfect!
I added, with an apology for form’s sake only,” I can get away with saying these things. I'”m a grandmother now.”
He blushed strawberry red and laughed with me. “So that’s why I’m out of strawberries!”
“Well, thank you. Thank you very much. You are kind.” he said.
I told him that I’d tried his recipe for morning porridge – a puree of fresh strawberries mixed in with the oats and a touch of almond butter to make it slightly nuttier. “Absolutely delicious!” I commended him.
He carried my flat of berries to the trunk of my car and placed them in.
“Come back for the blueberries soon, ” he saluted me as I drove away.
It had started with a very frustrating day, Friday, and it had resulted in all this bit of happy Karma, with me happy, and him, and a slew of ladies with happy eyes.
Ain’t life wonderful?